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March 1, 2012
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Cityview readers smash new Best Of Des Moines record, casting more than 10,000 votes this year

By Jared Curtis and Amber Williams

For more than 20 years, central Iowans have looked to the pages of Cityview for advice on politics, movies, restaurants, nightlife, theater, sporting events, live music, art, theater, books, television and other news and information that fall under “things to do.” More than 95 percent of our readers say they look to us for dining and entertainment information, among other things. That’s a phenomenal number and one that we do not take for granted.

Fewer people are looking to daily newspapers for information, yet Cityview’s readership continues to grow. More than 97 percent of our papers are sought out and picked up each week while stacks of those other publications gather dust. That pretty much says it all, and we thank you for your loyal readership.

With that in mind, we are pleased to provide you with the metro’s longest running and most prestigious readers’ poll — the Best of Des Moines. While other newspapers and magazines attempt to benefit from the name recognition of our poll by launching their own look-a-likes, there is only one Cityview, and there is only one Best of Des Moines poll. The numbers tell the story. What started with a mere few hundred votes in our original poll has blossomed into more than 10,000 votes this year — a new record. But with more than 70,000 readers each week and two decades of publishing the content you want, that hardly comes as a surprise. We thank you for your allegiance to Cityview and continuing to make the Cityview Best of Des Moines readers’ poll meaningful.

In the early years of the poll, Cityview received criticism from members of competing media on how the poll was operated — some claiming it was rigged by us, that only advertisers won awards. Others thought the winners were chosen by our staff, and they chastised us for our “picks.” A few even said the winners cheated by loading the ballots. Despite the criticism, the poll grew, and local establishments display their Best of Des Moines certificates on their walls proudly, because they know they earned them.

We pride ourselves in the poll’s validity. Some of our advertising customers win awards; some don’t. Quite frankly, some of the winners make us cringe, but the results are what they are. All winners are the choices of our readers, and we would not have it any other way. As for the cheaters, give it your best shot. With 100 percent online polling now, we are able to disqualify votes from the same IP address. Sorry, but cheaters don’t win.

To those of you who took the time to cast votes, we say, “Thank you.” To those of you honored by being named in the top three of your category by our readers, we say, “Congratulations.” And to those publishers who try to emulate what we do, we say, “We are flattered by your imitations.”

And now on to the results…

Eats Shopping Culture &
of the


Best New Restaurant

Zombie Burger + Drink Lab

It’s an adventure the minute you walk in the door, as if you’re in a futuristic sci-fi movie that takes place in Des Moines. You read from a menu made to look like the community newspaper, which is keeping the public up to date on the latest zombie apocalypse chaos being unleashed throughout the city, while you settle in for a hearty meal prepared by a few of Des Moines’ most innovative chefs. It’s no surprise that our readers love this place. 300 E. Grand Ave., 244-9292.

Runners-up: Americana, (tie) Gusto Pizza, Big City Burgers & Greens

Best Local Family Restaurant

Latin King

Chosen king again this year by our readers, Latin King restaurant proves once again that when it comes to sitting down for a satisfying meal with the family, there is no other that can compare. For more than 60 years, the Latin King has been an east side hot spot for food and fellowship. There’s something for everyone on the menu, from Great Grandpappy Panzio to sweet baby Ada. A menu that has an entire section devoted to shared plates shows family matters as much as the food at Latin King. 2200 Hubbell Ave., 266-4466.

Runners-up: Tumea & Sons, Zombie Burger

Best Kept Secret on the Local Restaurant Scene

Flying Mango

Even with the will power of a priest, no one can resist the temptation of the faintest wiff of what’s cooking in this kitchen. Taking the crown again this year, the Flying Mango’s Caribbean-style food turns newcomers into regulars and regulars into loyal followers. Flying Mango doesn’t need a lot of hype. The food speaks for itself. That’s why our readers say the restaurant continues to proudly remain one of the metro’s secret diamonds in the rough. 4345 Hickman Road, 277-1830.

Runners-up: (tie) Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, Chef’s Kitchen and Simons (j. Benjamins)

Best Local Restaurant Period


No surprise here. Centro takes the trophy yet again, bringing a bit of the Big Apple to the heart of the Midwest, serving coal-fired pizzas laboriously made from scratch recipes. But chef George Formaro’s recipes offer something to Des Moines that those Yanks in New York simply don’t have — farm fresh Iowa ingredients and knowhow. 1011 Locust St. 244-7033.

Runners-up: Latin King and Django

Best Local Chef

George Formaro — Orchestrate

Of course, it only makes sense that Des Moines’ “Best Local Restaurant” is owned by a man who locals consider to be one of the city’s top-notch chefs. Formaro’s brilliant Italian roots run deep in Des Moines, with an authentic upbringing that groomed him for entrepreneurial success and enhanced by a culinary arts degree from Des Moines Area Community College. As owner of several popular restaurants throughout the metro including South Union Bread Café, Centro, Django and Gateway Market, Formaro is an icon Des Moines can be proud of.

Runners-up: Phil Shires- Café di Scala, Aaron King- Dos Rios/Big City Burgers & Greens

Best Wait Staff


Owners of Centro know that presentation can be everything in the restaurant business, and part of the overall presentation of a meal is its representation. The wait staff has something to brag about again this year, eeking by last year’s winner to take the No. 1 spot with a humble smile and friendly tidings. 1011 Locust St., 244-7033.

Runners-up: Dos Rios, Tursi’s Latin King

Best American Food


The name says it all. Americana was named “Best American Food.” Special to Cityview

Sometimes the name says it all. Downtown’s new Americana Restaurant and Lounge steals the top spot away from the Drake Diner, which won last year, and even outdid last year’s runner-ups as well. With a modern American/continental menu specializing in freshly prepared small plates, signature entrees, gourmet burgers, contemporary classics and more, it’s a safe bet that this won’t be Americana’s only Best Of award. 1312 Locust St., 243-1397.

Runners-up: Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, Jethro’s

Best Local Vegetarian/Vegan

Ritual Café

The quaint, hippie hot spot and folksy music venue takes the championship over from last year’s winner, A Dong. These folks know how to make a meal out of nature’s own homegrown ingredients. Even Des Moines’ most ravenous carnivore can leave here feeling perfectly fulfilled — without all the sin. 1301 Locust St., 288-4872.

Runners-up: Fresh Café & Market, A Dong

Best Local Italian

Latin King

While the metro does Italian pretty damn well, apparently none holds a candle to our returning champion, Latin King, which is a bold statement considering the talent of our runners-up. They wouldn’t call themselves the Latin “King” unless the menu could back it up, and after six decades in the business, our readers still agree with lauding approval. 2200 Hubbell Ave., 266-4466.

Runners-up: Tumea & Sons, (tie) Centro and Cafe di Scala

Best Local Mexican

El Rodeo

Alone or with friends, El Rodeo has grown to a be a cozy spot for a drink and/or meal from south of the border. For the second year in a row, the restaurant has taken the winning position with voters who love pretending to be Mexican, even if only for a day. It can make a great venue for a hot date or a family’s lively night out. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Monterrey Mexican, Dos Rios

Best Local Thai

Cool Basil

In the game of tag, Cool Basil’s “it” this year, ousting our readers’ choice last year, Thai Flavors, for the win. A celebration of one of Thailand’s most famous attributes — its food — Cool Basil chefs understand the level of skill and patience required to prepare the perfect dish. Depending on the palate, guests can order their dish sweet, salty, hot and spicy or explosive, so don’t be fooled by the coolness in the name. 8801 University Ave., Suite 22, 225-8111.

Runners-up: Thai Flavors, Taste of Thai

Best Local Chinese


Of all the things this Midwestern grocery store chain has to offer, its Chinese deli is not the first that comes to mind, but our readers say it’s pretty darn good. In addition to the tasty entrees offered, perhaps its convenience makes it the metro’s best among Cityview voters for the second year running. Fill up a to-go plate after a bustling shopping experience, or settle into the diner and suck some noodles with friends, family or co-workers. Multiple locations.

Runner’s-up: Tsing Tao, Red China Bistro

Best Japanese

Miyabi 9

Finally edging out Taki into the second-place spot, Miyabi 9 swoops in like a crane for the crown. Bringing something unique to the already exceptional East Village neighborhood, Miyabi 9 is a dimly-lit haven for small talk, first dates or a quick make-out session once the sake kicks in. It’s elegant, romantic and simple all in one — and the food is absolutely irresistible, to the point where it’s hard not to drool at the next table’s plate while you’re waiting for own to arrive. 512 E. Grand Ave., 288-8885.

Runners-up: Taki, Ohana

Best Local Vietnamese

A Dong

A Dong beats out runner-up Lucky Dragon for the second year in a row with its fresh and wholesome food, warm and inviting atmosphere and inspired vegetarian menu — a fine fit for all the animal-lovers out there and a favored spot for people passing through Des Moines who are used to big city restaurants. 1511 High St., 284-5632.

Runners-up: Lucky Dragon, Pho Ha Dao

Best Local Seafood

Waterfront Seafood Market & Restaurant

This win is about as shocking of an outcome as the end of an Adam Sandler movie. Waterfront takes the top spot year after year, and it’s no wonder why. Waterfront is good for everything seafood, whether you dine in, take out or are a restaurant owner yourself looking for the best seafood for your own menu. One word describes it — fresh. 2900 University Ave., West Des Moines, 223-5106; 2414 S.E. Tones Drive, Ankeny, 963-1940.

Runners-up: Splash, Bonefish Grill

Best Local Sushi

Miyabi 9

Nothing says sharing like sushi, and Miyabi 9 sets the mood for a unique dining experience with its fresh ingredients, complemented by signature sauces that make each roll a gift to your tongue, leaving you feeling stuffed and satisfied without needing a nap in one of the booths. 512 E. Grand Ave., 288-8885.

Runners-up: Sakari Sushi, Waterfront Seafood Market

Best Local Steakhouse

801 Steak & Chop House

If Cityview’s Best Of award means little to you, then how about a highly-acclaimed “Distinguished Restaurants of North America” (DiRoNA) Award, a national recognition earned by only 800 restaurants on the continent including our winner, 801 Steak. Locals love it, too, with the choice USDA prime cuts cooked to juicy, sizzling perfection… enough to make you drool like Homer Simpson. Mmm…. steak. 801 Grand Ave., 288-6000.

Runners-up: Texas Roadhouse and Iowa Beef Steakhouse

Best Local Breakfast

Waveland Café

The only thing that’s not absolutely perfect about Waveland at breakfast time is that its popularity has people lining up out the door some mornings. But our readers say it’s worth the wait. Whether it’s Iowa-grown sausage and eggs, a pancake mountain spewing syrup and butter or the crispy “hashbrowns with everything,” every breakfast is hearty and as comfortable as Grandma’s kitchen table. 4708 University Ave., 279-4341; 35653 Ute Ave., Booneville, 987-1038.

Runners-up: Drake Diner, La Mie

Best Local Deli

Palmer’s Deli

Palmer’s manages to edge out the same two runners-up again this year. It’s kind of like a smooth-running, well-organized cafeteria — except far more sanitary and with healthier and tastier food on the menu. The options are vast, and the ingredients are simple and fresh. It’s a place booming with contagious energy, and the food will keep you light on your feet, too. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Manhattan Deli, Jason’s Deli

Best Local Burger

Zombie Burger + Drink Lab

Zombie Burger + Drink Lab took home two awards including “Best New Restaurant” and “Best Local Burger.” Photo by Amber Williams

After 21 years running, Zombie swoops in and snatches the crown from former king of the burger, B-Bops. Definitely more delicious than it sounds, the zombie burger is a simple American cheeseburger with all the fixin’s: cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, but the secret’s in the zombie sauce. Offered in three-tiered options, ranging in price from $5 to $9, these burgers are a brilliant combination of both simple and strange.

Runners-up: B-Bops, Big City Burger & Greens



Best Local Pizza

Gusto Pizza Co.

It would make sense that the voters in Cityview’s Ultimate Pizza Challenge a few months ago would

Gusto Pizza was named “Best Local Pizza.” Photo by Jared Curtis

also get out the vote for our Best Of contest and crown Gusto the king of pizza yet again. Gusto’s authentic but inventive pies edged out last year’s winner, Fong’s, proving the true Italian heritage has staying power in the minds and bellies of pizza lovers in the metro. 1905 Ingersoll Ave., 244-8786

Runners-up: Fong’s Pizza, Big Tomato

Best Bakery

La Mie

Baguettes, croissants, bread pudding and cookies… it must be La Mie. Its delicious, made-from-scratch fresh breads, pastries and desserts have stolen the hearts and appetites of our readers since it opened in 2003, and it’s taken the win from Hiland and South Union for the second year in a row. 841 42nd St., 255-1625.

Runners-up: South Union, Hiland

Best Dessert

Crème Cupcakes

Our runners-up can’t catch a break, as both are edged out once again for best dessert, but this time by Crème Cupcakes. If you have the will power of Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka, you might want to steer clear of this sweet spot on the south side. From the Ravishing Red Velvet to the Give Me More Smores to the Chunky Monkey and that too tempting Chocolate Covered Cherry, the cupcake flavors will turn any man into a mouse. 1701 S. Union, 554-9007.

Runners-up: Cafe di Scala, Alba

Best Local BBQ

Jethro’s BBQ

Readers voted that Jethro’s BBQ has the “Best Chicken Wings,” “Best Local BBQ” and “Best Local Nachos.” Photo by Jared Curtis

Local favorite Jethro’s opened a third location to cater to Cajun lovers on the west side. The menu is the same but with Cajun specialties added including BBQ Shrimp, Blackened Mahi, Shrimp Etouffe, Crispy Fried Alligator, Jambalaya, seafood gumbo and seafood pasta. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Smokey D’s, Woody’s Smoke Shack

Best Local Onion Rings

Maxie’s Restaurant & Lounge

Homemade, heaping and proving to be untouchable, Maxie’s famous onion rings have earned the restaurant its fifth consecutive win. So good, in fact, that at a price, which varies by size, ranging from about $3.50 to $6.50, it feels like a steal. 1311 Grand Ave., West Des Moines, 223-1463.

Runners-up: Jethro’s BBQ, The Tavern

Best Local Fries


Thank you, Cityview readers, for not upsetting the potato gods this year by voting for food fat cat McDonald’s. We’re pleased a local has risen from last year’s runner-up to the top spot this year, and voters did a great job in picking Django. The perfectly-seasoned, hand-cut side dish complements each entrée (and they don’t come in a greasy, little box). Django puts the “French” in the fry. 210 10th St., 288-0268.

Runner’s-up: B-bops and Big City Burgers & Greens

Best Chicken Wings

Jethro’s BBQ

Another local joint knocks the chain down a few links, taking the win from the mighty Buffalo. Jethro’s was chosen as one of the “Top 100 BBQ Restaurants in America” in the recently published book, “America’s Best BBQ.” Although it’s literally finger-licking good, when it comes to wings, the secret’s not entirely in the sauce; it likely has a lot to do with their habit of staying true to the No. 1 rule to cooking BBQ right — cook it slow and low. But the sauce does pack a punch. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Buffalo Wild Wings, Gerri’s Tavern

Best Local Nachos

Jethro’s BBQ

Nabbing the win from the University Library this year, Jethro’s proves it’s not just a BBQ joint. On the menu, they’re called “original nachos,” but they’re a stand-out item among Cityview readers — fresh fried corn chips dusted in a special rub, smothered with white cheddar sauce and shredded cheeses, topped with house smoked chicken or pulled pork and finished with smoked corn pico, guacamole and sour cream. A delightful combination of smoky, cool and crunchy. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: The University Library, el Bait Shop

Best Local Soup

Palmer’s Deli and Market

For many Des Moines soup lovers, it’s a daily ritual to go online to for a quick look in the corner box to see what the day’s soup specials are: tomato basil ravioli, chicken enchilada, baked potato, garden veggie… Palmer’s soups are so popular that (along with earning the most votes year after year) the website also offers an entire soup calendar for the patrons who like to plan ahead. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Panera Bread, Waterfront Seafood & Market

Best Local Bar Food

High Life Lounge

Perhaps Cityview readers are regressing, or maybe they just really loved their childhood, but the ’70s retro hangout, High Life Lounge, has taken this win again for the second year in a row. As much as the beer choices and the décor, the food is just as reminiscent of the era. It brings you back to dinner at Grandma’s house watching “Bonanza” over deviled eggs, liver and onions and fried gizzards. Mix that with the “champagne of beers,” and you’re good to go. 200 S.W. Second St., 280-1965.

Runners-up: Star Bar, Francie’s

Best Local Bistro Fare

Bistro Montage

A classic favorite, Bistro Montage earns itself another award in this category. Considered Des Moines’ “first true French bistro,” the menu includes authentic French entrees such as handmade agnoloitti, local elk burger, Riesling chicken and cassoulet. A longtime Des Moines favorite, it’s no wonder Bistro Montage has held this title since 2006. 2724 Ingersoll Ave., 577-1924.

Runners-up: Django, La Mie

Best Local Appetizers

Star Bar

For the third consecutive year, Star Bar’s eclectic small-plate menu has proven to be a seemingly elite choice among our readers, featuring foods such as garlic and parmesan fries, steamed pork dumplings with soy, edamame and more. But the real star at this bar is the price — appetizer dishes start at about $4. 2837 Ingersoll Ave., 288-1405.

Runners-up: Americana, Trostel’s Dish

Best Local Coffeehouse

Smokey Row

A five-year trend has been broken this year, as Smokey Row takes the No. 1 spot away from Mars Café. It could be because of the many locations from Des Moines to Pleasant Hill to Pella to Oskaloosa; it could be because of the cool events it hosts such as a the Sno-Ball Festival or the political round-tables this election year; or it could be the hip people who consider it a social hub. But we think it’s all in the beans. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Mars Café, Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure

Best Coffee

Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure

Last year, the “Best Coffeehouse” also won the “Best Coffee,” but this year our readers bumped Mars Café into the runners-up category on both, and perhaps the name says it all. From the Mocha Mex Mexican espresso to the cinnamon, nutmeg and chocolate sprinkles of the Café Zanzibar, each sip is an adventure. 2723 Ingersoll Ave., 244-7694.

Runners-up: Mars Café, Smokey Row

Best Local Wine Selection


Ask Dennis. Whenever a wannabe wine connoisseur is searching for that perfect occasion wine, ask Dennis at the West Lakes Hy-Vee. But each location has its own Dennis, which may be part of why voters chose the grocery store chain over some local favorites. The selection is fast, including an entire aisle devoted to all-Iowa wines, and the convenience while grocery shopping adds to the allure as well. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Sbrocco, (tie) Café di Scala and Ingersoll Wine & Spirits

Best Local Power Lunch


Literally translated, Centro means “city center,” which is fitting considering its downtown location. The fact that it’s in the hub of all the hustle, combined with its fine menu and fast service, makes Centro an obvious choice for the hungry movers and shakers of the metro. It’s been voted best power lunch three consecutive years by our readers. 1011 Locust St., 244-7033.

Runners-up: Palmer’s Deli & Market, Proof

Best Local Place for a $5 Lunch

Tasty Tacos

There are not many places that can claim a quality meal for only $5, but among them, Tasty Tacos is all the buzz. It’s often the place people in Cityview’s Nightlife section claim to be their favorite hangout, and chefs admit it’s where they like to eat when not manning the grill themselves. So the new “I [heart] Tasty Tacos” billboards found around town make good sense. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Hy-Vee, High Life Lounge

Best Local Place for a $10 Dinner


Who better to know food than a grocery store? For decades, in addition to bringing affordable food to the refrigerators of families on a budget and college kids who buy in bulk, Hy-Vee has also been showing us how to fix it and serve it to taste. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: Zombie Burger, Capital Pub & Hot Dog

Best Place to Chow After 2 a.m.

Fong’s Pizza

Not long after it debuted downtown, Fong’s was voted by Cityview readers as the best afterhours food haven, and it’s held the title ever since. Somehow Fong’s manages to be both buzzing with energy and possessing Buddha-like zen all in one restaurant. The pizza is one-of-a-kind, too. 223 Fourth St., 323-3333.

Runners-up: Big Tomato, Abelardos

Best Local First Date Spot


Take a first date to Centro, and it will say a lot about who you are and what you’re looking for. The soft bustling in the bar and restaurant show you’ve got your finger on the pulse of what’s “in” in Des Moines, and the dimly-lit dining area demonstrates that romance and intimacy are important in showing someone you’re interested in getting to know them better — all making Centro the perfect choice by voters. 1011 Locust St., 244-7033.

Runners-up: Mars Café, Django

Best Patio (restaurant)

Dos Rios

Iowa’s smoking ban has literally opened the doors and windows of opportunity for some fabulous patios, so the competition grows fiercer each year. Still, Dos Rios’ professional and practical architectural design overlooking Court Avenue remains untouchable thanks to voters. 316 Court Ave., 282-2995.

Runners-up: Saints and Wellmans

Best Place to Get a Doughnut

Donut King

Returning to our “Best Of” list this year, the Donut King proves it truly is king of the donut world. Sweet, glazed or flaky, these donuts have proven to be a favorite among our readers, and the short wait makes it a convenient morning or midday stop. 220 Grand Ave., West Des Moines, 274-9892.

Runners-up: Hy-Vee, Donut Hut

Best Local Caterers

Taste! To Go and Catering

Local caterers join the “Best Of” honors this year, and to start them off, Taste! To Go takes the cake. They attribute their local success to a loyal following of customers who appreciate the new, creative approach to gourmet catering. 4700 University Ave., 277-8646.

Runners-up: Hy-Vee, Catering DSM

Best Frozen Yogurt

Orange Leaf

It’s a treat to have this new addition to our Best Of, and voters like it, too. Much like the array of flavors, the toppings bar at Orange Leaf allows the patron to be the boss. It’s good to have it exactly as you like it. Orange Leaf gets it. Multiple locations.

Runners-up: TCBY and Menchies

Best Type of Beer

Bud Light

A popular choice by both men and women, a go-to drink at the bar and liquor aisle and found almost anywhere where alcohol is served make Bud Light a universal and convenient choice among consumers. It’s got the masculinity of the Budweiser family with the low calories women enjoy, too.

Runners-up: Peace Tree, Court Avenue Brewing Company

Best Locally Brewed Beer

Peace Tree Brewing Company

The nectar of Knoxville, Peace Tree Brewery, was named “Best Locally Brewed Beer.” Photo by Jared Curtis

We like the brewery and its staff — we wrote a whole cover story about it. And, apparently, our readers love the product, as Peace Tree beers beat out some worthy competitors. The menu of flavors is versatile and innovative, ranging from the hardcore roasted malts of Red Rambler to the unfiltered Belgian style Blonde Fatale and a list of seasonal brews true to Iowa’s ag roots. 107 W. Main St., Knoxville, 641-842-BREW (2739).

Runners-up: Court Ave Brewing Company, Raccoon River Brewing Company

Best Soft Drink


This debate has been running longer than Chevy or Ford, but the results are finally in — Coke beats Pepsi, according to Des Moines metro voters. (Probably because of how well it mixes with Captain and Jack.)

Runners-up: Pepsi, Diet Coke

Best Type of Liquor

Templeton Rye

Not just whiskey, but Iowa’s own homegrown Templeton Rye whiskey. Anyone who works in the booze-slinging biz can tell you it’s a local favorite. When a case arrives at the liquor store, it doesn’t last a week. When a bottle is popped at the bar, it doesn’t last the night! It’s the elusive elite, smooth and sweet.

Runners-up: Vodka, Captain Morgan

Best Local Beer Selection

el Bait Shop

It will take some committed investors for anyone to be able to fund a project that would bring a bar’s selection up to par with el Bait Shop’s 100-plus beer varieties available on tap. El Bait wins every year, and, as Forrest Gump would say, “That’s all we have to say about that.”

Runners-up: Hy-Vee, (tie) The Royal Mile and Court Avenue Brewing Company

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